REGINA -- Five things to consider as you get totally psyched for a battle of last-place teams in the Labour Day Classic Sunday afternoon:
1. Burke's stock
Facing the Prairie rivals in Regina while trying to pull the season out of the frying pan is not an enviable task for a seasoned Bombers head coach, let alone a guy that's a rookie in the position. Welcome to the fire, Tim Burke.
How will Burke manage the in-game responsibilities?
How will Burke perform when the play clock is winding down?
How will Burke respond the first time a call doesn't go his way?
Bombers management is hoping the change sparks a talented roster they believe has underachieved under the former coaching administration. This premise will unfold (or be proven wrong) over the rest of the schedule, and judgment on the in-season move should start to trickle in before September ends.
Sunday, though, it's all about Burke. At 2-6, Winnipeg can't afford to wait around for the new guy to find his mojo with the big headset. His margin for error -- like the team he takes over -- is slim.
2. Hey, it's Odell Willis!
Well, this should be fun. The former Bombers rush end, shipped out of town for being a bad seed, according to Joe Mack, going up against his former employer for the first time since the trade.
Drama! Revenge! Yes and yes!
His numbers are down slightly, but Willis remains a pass rush menace. Some advice for Bombers QB Joey Elliott -- keep one eye on the one-time Bomber at all times. Um, better make that both eyes. Better safe than sorry.
Side note: We're setting the over/under on Willis offsides at three. Too low?
3. And that looks like Joe Lobendahn...
The LDC also serves as the backdrop for the return of Joe Lobendahn. The former Bombers linebacker, who was let go before the season after the club decided to try another direction, signed with the Riders earlier this week and makes his 2012 debut in the middle of he defence Sunday.
Expect Joe-Lo to be in heavy rotation against Winnipeg; game condition may not be where it should be and he is coming off a knee injury. How much the hard-hitting Lobendahn has left in the tank is something to keep an eye on.
Given the circumstances regarding his departure, and the motivation born from that perceived slight, the Bombers better hope he's not at full-speed.
4. Third-down gamble
With Paul LaPolice gonzo and Burke not interested in tackling the offence, Gary Crowton has full custody of the below average Bombers offence. Being an O.C. for 30 years south of the border earns you some benefit of doubt, but the CFL is a different game -- one that the play-calling Crowton admits he is still getting used to.
At times he's been OK. Other times he's looked lost.
Tell us again how removing the head coach makes the offence better?
Look, the impact of gassing LaPolice should produce both positive and negative returns for the rest of the year. Change always introduces an element of risk; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Winnipeg's offence has struggled with consistency all year. Leaving it all to Crowton is the club's biggest gamble to date.
5. Pilsner and desperation
Urgency will be on both sidelines, with the clubs looking to rinse out the miserable first eight games of the season. Winnipeg's struggles are well documented in these parts -- injuries, poor play on both sides of the ball, a head-coaching casualty -- but don't underestimate the sweat going on in Riderville. Saskatchewan has lost five straight and has looked like the bungling outfit that only won five games in 2011.
They say the CFL season starts in September.
That's good news, 'cause neither the Bombers or the Riders have looked like much so far. To say both teams need this game would be an understatement.
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